Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver - Going back through my Kindle last week, I realized I’d never read this (I’ll buy books late at night and forget about them). One flight later, I finished it, and was disappointed that it had ended. In rural Tennessee, Dellarobia Turnbow has made up her mind to cheat on her husband, leaving behind the tedium and frustration of caring for her children, an apathetic husband and an overbearing mother-in-law. While walking to a cabin deep in their mountains above the home to do the deed, she sees what she originally mistakes for a forest fire when she looks into the valley below. It’s actually millions of monarch butterflies off their normal migration route. She gets credit for the discovery (“it’s a miracle!”), and soon finds herself in the middle of her in-laws who’ve sold the land to loggers for clear cutting and the scientists who travel to their farm to research the insects. This is a beautiful book, with social and political issues—rural poverty, global warming—becoming the dominant plot themes without ever overtaking the human element that made me care about the story in the first place. Dellarobia is a fantastic character to carry the story. I was rooting for her the whole book (though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted for her). Anyway, this was such a unique story and completely different from what I’ve read recently. I’m glad I finally got around to it.
Hold the Dark by William Giraldi - The wolves have taken three children in the remote Alaskan village of Keelut and wolf researcher Russell Core gets a call to come help. This dark, haunting book doesn’t bother with subtle metaphors (the characters occasionally wear wolf masks, THE HUMANS ARE THE REAL ANIMALS) but the story is not a run-of-the-mill thriller. I was genuinely disturbed, especially when one character—the father of one of the dead children—joins the story. After his son is taken by the wolves, he is called back to Alaska from an unnamed tour of duty in a “desert” region. (Pick one, I guess.) At this point, things start to spiral. If you’re still suffering from Gone Girl withdrawals, this short book might help you through the slump. (Be forewarned: Gone Girl is disturbing but not particularly bloody. This book is violent.)
In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides - The best thing about this book (the story of the USS Jeannette, sent to conduct a polar expedition in 1879) is that mostly everything in it was completely new to me. Polar exploration was the space travel of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s and these voyages were highly publicized, with their crews seen as adventurous heroes. It’s in stark contrast to how we know of them today. That is, we remember the ones where they ate each other. The crew of the Jeannette did not resort to cannibalism, but after arduous preparation, their ship succumbed to the ice nonetheless. At the time of the Jeannette's sailing, researchers and cartographers agreed that the most likely polar theory had warm ocean currents passing beneath the ring of pack ice surrounding the North Pole, and creating an warm “open sea” interior. That's what the Jeannette, and her captain (George De Long), was going to try and discover. Thanks to a wealth of primary and secondary sources, Sides has fleshed out the crew and their voyage to almost ridiculous detail (considering this happened thousands of miles from civilization and in 1879). The last half of the book had me holding my breath, just willing these guys to make it. I had the benefit of not knowing what happened and I won’t spoil it for you either. Don’t Google it. Just read the book. (You must also check out Hampton Sides’ Ghost Soldiers, which is one of the most incredible books about World War II that I’ve read.)
De Potter’s Grand Tour by Joanna Scott - A novel-that’s-not-quite-fiction, De Potter’s Grand Tour is based on Scott’s great-grandfather, Armand de Potter. In the book, Armand and wife Aimee run a successful business leading tours of Europe for wealthy travelers. Armand, a long-time adventurer, is also a passionate collector of antiquities. Then, Armand disappears while traveling on a ship near Greece. After resigning herself to Armand’s death, Aimee begins to sort through the (not inconsequential) mysteries of their life together. Despite what sounded like a great plot with fascinating characters, this book never got off the ground for me. The characters seemed one-dimensional (Aimee improves as the book proceeds), but that could be owed to Scott being hesitant to take too much license. They’re her relatives, after all.
How Toddlers Thrive by Tovah P. Klein - There are lots of books about toddler discipline or toddler “training” (potty, sharing, tantrums, bedtime, so much training) but I’m glad I randomly grabbed this one from the library new release section a few weeks ago. It’s a combination of research, anecdotal stories and advice. It’s not a dry instruction manual or a 5-step process to having the well-behaved, tantrum-free toddler of your dreams. There are no “10 Ways to Achieve Potty Training Success” chapters. Instead, Klein talks mostly about toddler psychology and brain development. She explains why common discipline or parenting tactics don’t (and can’t) work and shows how even the smallest changes in the way we talk to toddlers can have immediate and long-lasting effects on their behavior. There is a lot of explaining—this is why this happens, this is why they do that—and then Klein leaves the reader with practical advice that parents can bring into their own home. Klein’s emphasis on establishing predictable, structured routines is something I was nodding my head at each time she mentioned it. Klein argues that the more routine-oriented you are as a parent, the more free your child is to develop flexibility at their own pace. It also affects their ability to handle transitions and change later in life. I notice huge behavioral shifts when we change even a small part of Isobel’s routine. I’ve become more relaxed about her routine as she’s gotten older, but this book was a good reminder not to do that. Klein advocates a very hands-off parenting style: Let them play. Let them make mistakes. Don’t try and fix things for them. The chapter on Toddler Shame was fascinating. Even things we perceive as small (for example, “Let me help you write your name the right way”) leaves a toddler feeling ashamed of their own attempt. Until I read this chapter, I didn’t realize how often I was trying to “help”—let me show you! this is how you do it! let’s try this instead!—and it was eye-opening and humbling. This is the rare parenting book that is as informative as it is instructive.
Frog Music by Emma Donoghue - The best part of this book is reading the afterword. It was only then, at the close of the book, that I realized how meticulously researched and carefully plotted the novel actually was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to rescue the other 300-some pages from being agonizingly plodding. The book is set in late-1800’s San Francisco during a brutal heat wave (horses were dying in the streets) and the smallpox epidemic. Donoghue immerses the reader in the city and in the time period in a very visceral way—a small blessing because the plot unfolds slowly, in reverse. The book starts with a murder and then jumps backward a month to work slowly forward until we come again to the murder and its aftermath. The most colorful, fully-imagined character is the one most available to Donoghue (this will seem vague now but I’m trying to avoid spoilers). I cared less and less about the murder mystery the further I read: The rich historical setting was the best part of the book. If the story had been even slightly pared down or the characters a bit more real, I think it would have made a big difference. As it is, I found it good—but not good enough to recommend. I loved Donoghue’s last novel, Room. That book was suspenseful and enormously creative. This book—a murder mystery set in the underbelly of the “Old West” San Francisco—seemed likely to be just as exciting and vivid. But, in the few times the book does come alive, it’s simply a tease.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker - This wildly popular European best-seller was finally published in the US earlier this year—and did not catch on and was poorly reviewed in US publications. I trusted the Europeans though and I’m very glad I did. However, a few housekeeping items: This book is not realistic and it’s a bit too long. It’s mildly ridiculous at times and cliched or cringe-worthy at others. It’s set in a small New Hampshire town and I can almost see Swiss author Dicker sitting at his desk picking the Best of American Character Stereotypes for filling out the roster of characters. (There is one Jewish mother he wrote who is just—no. It’s not good.) But, despite these things, the book is just crazy, stupid fun. The mystery is sufficiently mysterious and the book-within-a-book concept works better than it should. Our narrator, Marcus Goldman, is suffering from major writer’s block a few years after the spectacular success of his first book. Marcus’ old college professor mentor and friend, Harry Quebert, suggests he come to New Hampshire to write. Shortly after Marcus arrives, Quebert is arrested when the bones of a young girl gone missing over 30 years prior are found in Quebert’s garden. Marcus’ publishers—ready to strangle him for dragging his feet on a second book—see a wonderful opportunity. Write about Quebert! Solve the mystery! Find out who murdered the girl! Marcus reluctantly agrees and begins to dig into the town’s long-held secrets. As I said above, the book isn’t perfect. But, it’s also one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a while. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro - Hmm. I don’t know. This novel (about a group of New York-based members of a mommy group doing a weekend together with their families at the beach) was stressful. I like flawed, annoying characters as a general rule, but this group’s passive aggressive/sometimes actually aggressive in-fighting grew exhausting. There is the requisite adulterous temptation and the sanctimommy of the group unable to shut up about how advanced her child is. (The others think the girl is sociopathic instead.) There are the kids, causing extreme emotional grief and upset for the parents. The kids bite each other. They whine. They cry. One suffers a particularly memorable midnight constipation episode. There are at least 15 personal or interpersonal conflicts happening in one claustrophobic beach house and I stopped caring about most of it about halfway through. I enjoy fiction about parents dealing with honest, realistic problems, whether in their partnership (or non-partnership), or in their life in general or what-have-you, but goddamn—these people were awful. It was an interesting setting and the issues each character faced were compelling, but the characters themselves—my god. The increasingly unrealistic events of the book were emotionally manipulative—a propulsion system designed to keep me reading. “I know you hate these people by now, but how will they cope with THIS AWFUL THING? STAY TUNED!” If nothing else, this is an excellent cautionary tale: A weekend vacation with dramatic adults and too many kids in a too-small house is no vacation at all.
The Partner Track by Helen Wan - It’s hard to tell how much of the fictional The Partner Track is autobiographical, but lawyer Helen Wan’s first novel about a young Asian-American lawyer competing against a pool of men for partnership in her prestigious Manhattan law firm has a “been there, done that, I’m-writing-you-into-this-book” tone. This is especially true for the first quarter of the book, as Wan establishes the setting: Brutally long work hours, law firm hierarchies, and how the corporate politics of race/sex/class affects and influences the personal and professional dynamics for protagonist Ingrid Yung. The tone of the book feels light, like chick lit, but the topics and politics are heavy and serious. It’s a deft combination, especially taking into account the fast-moving, occasionally-juicy plot and the satisfying (if unrealistic) ending. I really enjoyed this, but I knew I would when the first page opened to a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote.
The Art of Sleeping Alone by Sophie Fontanel - This short memoir feels almost like poetry—short, lyrical chapters, all beautifully written. Paris-based Fontanel, at 27, becomes celibate after seeing her physical and emotional connection to sex become more destructive than fulfilling. It is vulnerable and intimate, like reading a journal. If you want something you can read in an afternoon, this is a good choice.
The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner - This is masterful, fascinating nonfiction. My favorite nonfiction has the ability to pique my extreme interest in topics that could, in theory, be covered in a few Wikipedia paragraphs. Here, though, is book-length coverage of a topic—with all the dates, historical facts, cultural background and other necessities that nonfiction requires—all expertly woven into a plot that feels almost like fiction. Koerner covers the Golden Age of Hijacking (a 5-year period starting in 1968) in which an American jetliner was “skyjacked” nearly once a week. He focuses on one particular hijacking: the taking of Western Airlines Flight 701 by Vietnam veteran Roger Holder and small-time weed dealer Cathy Kerkow. Their story melds the book together, their hijacking a perfect example of how the unrest of the era manifested in hijackings designed to make a political statement, elicit cash ransoms, or both. Given today’s TSA-laden airports, the snippets of the book about the commercial air lobby balking at security checkpoints because they feared travelers would take to the roads to avoid the inconvenience are written appropriately tongue-in-cheek. (“They’ll never submit to having their personal effects X-rayed!”) I wanted to call this one of the most interesting nonfiction books I’ve read this year, but I decided it’s just one of the most interesting I’ve read this year period. Highly recommend it. (I received this book free in exchange for a review.)
I’m a big Stephen King fan and was really looking forward to reading this. Long story short: It wasn’t my favorite. It’s not that it wasn’t exciting or suspenseful. It really was. Maybe it’s because I’m hoping every new King will be an 11/22/63. It’s not really fair to make that comparison. This is completely different type of book. Mr. Mercedes is a classic detective-on-the-case story—no supernatural stuff here—with classic Stephen King-isms sprinkled throughout.
The retired detective in the story is close to what you’d expect. He’s overweight, depressed and haunted by a mass murder case he could never solve. That case involved someone running down and killing people standing in a job fair line. A heavy Mercedes sedan was the murder weapon. The police could never get any solid leads and the case went cold, but the retired detective (Bill Hodges) is sucked back into the hunt when a taunting letter arrives at his home years after the fact.
It’s a good read. It’s genuinely creepy every now and then and at those points I’d remember, oh yes! This is a Stephen King novel. But the rest feels a little too basic for him. To make matters worse, the ending wasn’t worthy of the rest of the book. The suspenseful build-up to the end was fun, but once I read past the climax, the plot suddenly felt like a rapidly deflating balloon. Pffffft.
It wasn’t my favorite but it’s Stephen King, which means it’s still better than most run-of-the-mill thrillers. If you’re a fan, it’s worth reading because it’s so different than his other work. If you’re new to Stephen King, read these first instead.
Usually a book plot jumping the shark midway through isn’t a good thing, but when Bittersweet did it, I barely noticed. I was too busy speed reading to find out what would happen next. I knew, especially as I neared the end, that we were firmly in soap opera territory, but I didn’t care. This was such a fun summer read—a good mash-up of coming-of-age, mystery and romance set on a wealthy family’s summer compound in Vermont.
We meet our narrator—Mabel—at college. Bittersweet is ultimately about secrets and Mabel hints at having a few of her own from the start. But she doesn’t linger on them and neither does the reader. We’re too distracted by her beautiful and wealthy roommate Genevra (nickname: Ev). FYI: The names in this book are ridiculous in the best way possible. Birch. Tilde. Galway. Athol.
Anyway, Ev and Mabel bond a bit and eventually Mabel gets an invitation to spend the summer at Ev’s family summer compound in rural Vermont. Mabel, chronically embarrassed and angered by her family’s modest means, jumps at the chance to pretend they don’t exist. Ev explains to Mabel that each family member is given their own cottage within the compound. Ev has inherited Bittersweet and enlists Mabel to help her fix it up so it will pass her parents’ inspection. While meeting the family, Mabel is introduced to Ev’s eccentric aunt who tasks her with sniffing out certain family secrets. Maybe it’s a set-up, maybe a wild goose chase, but Mabel takes the bait and things start to get weird.
Well, weird but good. I enjoyed every second of reading this. It’s full of twists and rich-family drama that end up in a darker and more absurd place than I would have guessed. l loved that, though. Give more summer books like this, please.
I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews.
War of the Whales by Joshua Horwitz - This impeccably researched book is long but reads fast and quick, almost like a long form article for a magazine. It’s the perfect time to publish this, with the success of Animal Planet’s Whale Wars (<3 Alishan) and Blackfish. In this book, Horwitz follows a researcher and a lawyer and their quest to educate and stop the US Navy from conducting active sonar war games in ocean basins and marine sanctuaries. The book opens with one of the most widespread and bizarre marine mammal strandings that our protagonist researcher—Ken Balcomb—has ever encountered. A former Navy oceanographic specialist, Balcomb suspects sonar interference. While scouting for more strandings, he photographs a Navy ship from an airplane and begins to get sucked back into the secretive world of Navy sonar detection—but from the other side of the curtain.
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe - Oh, a historical fiction novel about a woman disguising herself to fight in the Civil War? Yes, please. I try to limit my historical fiction intake these days since I usually end up sorely disappointed, but I couldn’t resist this one. This book is fictional, but McCabe has based her main character Rosetta on dozens of real-life accounts of women disguised as men during the Civil War. It’s a surprisingly emotional little book and I was cheering hard for Rosetta by the end. It takes off a little tentatively—I wasn’t sure if it would be too much Hunger Games-meets-the-Civil War—but McCabe finds her stride once Rosetta leaves home to join her husband at his training camp. There are a few things that seem forced or odd—like conversations that characters have about the meaning of the war while obviously benefiting from McCabe’s ability to put the historical events into greater context. Also distracting: Rosetta’s inner commentary can seem unbelievably modern and it took me out of the book every single time. But, like I said above: As a whole, this book is really enjoyable. I’m so cynical about historical fiction now. This book was a good reminder that it can be done well and bring together many things—historical context, a love story, a sense of adventure—without the whole thing turning into a gooey mess.
The Son by Jo Nesbo - I love Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series so I was excited to check out this new stand-alone book. Unfortunately, I have mixed feelings about it. It KILLS me to say that because the characters are interesting. The action is exciting. The twists are fun. But this could have used some serious editing. It’s got a meandering problem and things wind up all over the place. Characters are introduced as if you should know who they are and then dispatched swiftly several pages later. It seems a little slapped together—we need to link X to Y, so let’s insert this chapter to help that make sense. The chemistry between some of the characters feels strange. Basically, the characters are most engaging when they’re on their own with no dialogue on the page. Yikes. Jo Nesbo is one of my favorite crime authors, but I found this only so-so compared to the other books of his I’ve read (I loved The Snowman).
Read any of these? Any recommendations for a book I should read next?
The title is amazing. The book is pretty fun. As far as travel/romance memoirs go, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. There have been many of these and I can’t keep them all straight anymore. They’re a tropical beach blend of spiritual experiences and handsome, exotic men. I don’t have problems with any of these things, by the way. Just that everything in the post-Eat, Pray, Love memoir genre reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love. I think (I know) that EPL—which Newman mocks in this memoir—has made me very wary of the travel/romance/life-lessons memoir. I’m too skeptical of the author’s intentions. Do you want Julia Roberts to play you too? I don’t think Kristin Newman does, but like I said: Eat, Pray, Love has ruined a lot of things.
But I digress! Newman writes well (she’s a successful television writer) and the parts of the book that talk about how and why she changed her views on relationships are astute and funny and bittersweet. Her examination of her family history adds a lot of depth to the story and I appreciated her being willing to look at her entire life and write about it in a genuine way. That would be enough to bump it to the top of the EPL genre list, since most of those books attempt to be self-deprecating but fail miserably. (“My biggest flaw is that I am too much of a perfectionist! Everything is done perfectly, what a burden! This is what caused my divorce, obviously.”) Anyway, this book is deeper and more introspective than you might expect. There are several moments that hit me pretty hard. (There’s one in particular. Still thinking about it.) I love being surprised by a book in a good way. I must find my passport! A trip is overdue.
I received this review copy for free, but I’ll always write an honest review. Even if I hate it. Especially if I hate it! I love writing angry reviews.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub - If you’re looking for a book to take to the beach or read by the pool, this is the one you should be buying. It has a bit of romance, conflict, family drama and food porn—in other words, a lot of things that make for a good escapist book. It’s about the Post family—mom, dad, younger sister, older brother, older brother’s older girlfriend, mom’s best friend and his husband. The momentum in the story centers around Mom and Dad and their somewhat secret reason for organizing the vacation in the first place. It’s not a bonding trip so much as it is a last hurrah. Can the family stand the test and emerge intact? (I don’t think large family vacations are a great means for determining if you really like your family, but this is fiction so…HAVE AT IT POST FAMILY.) It’s predictable and a little underdeveloped/rushed through the last half and will probably be forgotten in a few months, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a better beach book to read with a glass or two of wine.
I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes - THIS BOOK. Holy shit. I read it for about 8 hours yesterday. I read it while I ate. I read it while Isobel napped. I stayed up way too late finishing it last night. It’s a spy thriller and a murder mystery in one and be forewarned—it’s a long book. That doesn’t mean it’s slow. It’s fast-paced from the start and rarely lets up. The book unfolds in parallel stories. It focuses on the real-time events featuring our protagonist (Pilgrim) but then rewinds to tell the backstory of the man Pilgrim is hunting. When we first meet Pilgrim, he’s a former spy living a quiet, Parisian retirement when a New York City cop reads Pilgrim’s pseudonymous book about investigative techniques and the steps one could take to commit the perfect crime. The cop doesn’t think the pseudonym fits the book content and starts to try and find the real author. Meanwhile, the backstory—that starts with a teenage boy living in Saudi Arabia—starts to unfold. This boy eventually becomes the man Pilgrim is hunting (we’re told that from the beginning) but this backstory section is where the book really shines. Hayes created a fleshed-out villain that’s difficult to peg as purely Bad Guy. He’s smart, he has his reasons for doing what he does and Hayes makes sure we feel invested in his actions even if we know what he’s doing is wrong. The problem with most thrillers are two-dimensional characters and stereotypical *EVIL PLOTS* and villains. Hayes has managed to turn that been-there-done-that James Bond plot—A SPY! TERRORISM!—into a book that’s fast-paced without being trite and feels epic but not unrealistic. It’s the kind of book that could have been confusing to read in lesser hands, but Hayes (a longtime screenwriter) knows how to lay out a story. The only downside to this is that he’s fond of using writing devices (like foreshadowing) that translate better on-screen than on the page. There were a few times I wished he’d kept his cards a little closer to the chest. Movies or TV have to make things more obvious (“JOFFREY HAD TO DIE, REMEMBER THE NECKLACE” WINK WINK), but there were two major twists in this book that I figured out before they were properly revealed because Hayes couldn’t help dropping little foreshadowing hints here and there. Other than that, holy shit! This book was crazy. And I loved it.
Bootstrapper by Mardi Jo Link - This was one of those books I randomly decided to read because it sounded vaguely entertaining and I’m a sucker for fun cover art. Memoirs of rural living/adventure set alongside some sort of personal or professional hardship OR displayed as a brave and courageous departure from the monotony of a 9-5 life are littered on bookshelves. Maybe Wild started it, maybe Animal, Vegetable, Miracle did it first, but whatever the case, they are now A Thing. And I’m okay with that. I enjoy them a lot. You wrote an entire book about raising chickens? Sign me up. How about that one where you bought a farm and you have no idea what you’re doing? Yes, please. These books are usually a predictable combination of heart-warming anecdotes and humorous stories and sometimes that sounds just about right. (The Dirty Life by Kim Kimball is still one of my favorites of the genre.) Anyway, Bootstrapper is most definitely one of these types of books, but it’s also better. Better because Link IS badass and I was rooting for her the whole goddamn book. She and her husband divorce and suddenly she’s raising 3 boys at an income level that registers at or below the poverty line. She is resourceful, though, and has the kind of mental and emotional fortitude that makes her seem bigger than life. She’s inspirational but it doesn’t come off like she’s actually trying to be. She’s just telling about her life—like when she and her sons entered a zucchini-growing contest at their local bakery to win free bread so she could make her sons enough sandwiches that they wouldn’t go hungry for lunch. It was a quick, good book, but a few things confused or annoyed me. First, it seems like she ran out of stories once things began improving and at that point she realized she’d better wrap it up quick. Nothing else to write about, folks! I’m good now! Second, there are several details that she glosses over or pretends we won’t notice. Details of the divorce, for example, are no where to be found, though it’s a pivotal and reoccurring theme in her book. Third: A good memoir often makes you feel like you know someone intimately and it takes a lot of honest dumping all over the page to get that sense of familiarity well-established. Wild is a good example of this. Cheryl Strayed is really fearless talking about the not-so-book-ready parts of her story and that made me feel invested. Link, on the other hand, seems to have written this very much with impressions in mind (I don’t blame her, she has older kids after all), but I always got the sense she was writing the story she WISHED to tell rather than the one that actually happened. This probably directly relates to my first issue with the book (the rushed conclusion). I think she framed the story, told what she liked and when she couldn’t novelize it anymore? THE END. Anyway—this review has gotten much too long—I still really liked it and would recommend it to you if you need a quick read.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki - Lately I’ve been having a hard time writing reviews longer than three sentences about books I really love. I think I’m afraid that my writing about them will cheapen the experience I had reading them. Long review short: This is the best book I’ve read yet this year. It will be short listed as one of my favorites for 2014. It’s only June, but I’m completely confident about that. I don’t want to give any of the plot away. Just start reading it. It’s intricate, haunting, moving. The writing is so good it made me want to cry. Reading this was a spiritual experience.
Orfeo by Richard Powers - Orfeo is intense. It’s not a fast read, not an easy read, not even a particularly pleasurable read in the general sense that reading should be relaxing and engaging. This book is not relaxing. Every page felt like an electric shock. If you aren’t familiar with it, the book is about an aging, brilliant composer/professor Peter Els who decides to put his college microbiology studies to good use. In an unfortunate moment, he accidentally attracts the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. The book flits in time between the past and present; from his musical beginnings and discoveries to events in his personal and professional life. The story and characters are phenomenally well-constructed, but the music. THE MUSIC. It’s hard to write about music well but it’s even harder to write about the way it’s making you feel while you listen to it. How strange, then, for me to be reading about music I am familiar with and hear it start to play in my head. I recognize this, I’d think. Or, yes, that’s exactly what that part feels like! This book is incomparable. If you’ve ever played a major classical work, there is sometimes a moment where time almost stops, where the sound blends, where you feel you are part of a large machine pushing toward a conclusion, where your heart races and you forget everything except the next note on the page. Reading this book feels like that. It’s really astonishing.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P - This book is so well-known that I don’t think I have much to add. Anyway, I sped my way through it. Not because it was bad—I actually found it amusing. Nate is really quite the douchebag, but the amusing part is that he suspects he is too. But then he sits down to eat his Raisin Bran and plan the next Great American Novel.
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann - There’s a moment in TransAtlantic when all the story lines begin to start intertwining, when the lightbulb finally goes off and you realize the intricate planning and pacing involved. It is completely stunning. Just unbelievably emotional and beautiful.
Devil’s Knot by Mara Leveritt - Brandon and I were bored one night and we were looking through HBO documentaries and started watching the first Paradise Lost. We watched the two sequels over the next couple of days. Somewhere in there I downloaded this book on my Kindle and read it in a few hours. I remember hearing about this case and I definitely remember hearing about the release of the West Memphis Three (pictured on the book cover), but I was pretty young when the murders themselves actually happened. It was interesting to read this alongside viewing the documentaries for the first time. (The documentaries, by the way, are very graphic and disturbing so be forewarned.) If you like true crime and haven’t read this, add it to your list.
What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell - Selena recommended this to me and I really liked it. It was darker and more sad that I anticipated and the portions of the book in and around the Jersey shore hometown of the protagonist are the best. It’s probably the most beachy book I’ve read, even if it’s not exactly what you’d choose for a “beach read.” (Like I said, the book is somber and becomes more so the further you get into it.) Still, the scenes of the beach, the feeling of being a teenager and scampering over the boardwalk with your friends—that stuff evoked strong memories for me. Cornwell has a really beautiful, descriptive writing style that allows you to see the things she’s writing about in an almost movie-like way. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is made into a movie. It would probably be a good one.